Nigerian Shippers Council backs border closure, insists neighbouring countries respect ECOWAS Protocol

The Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) at the weekend convened a meeting of stakeholders in the maritime industry to review issues concerning the Federal Government’s action on border closure, while stating its position of support for the government in the interest of the nation’s economy.

The stakeholders including importers, exporters, freight forwarders, customs brokers and officials of the Nigeria Customs Service also expressed their support for the FG’s decision on closure of the nation’s land borders.

In his opening address, Executive Secretary of the NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello, said the Council was in full support of the FG’s action, as neighbouring countries had failed in respecting the ECOWAS Protocol on trade rules and regulations.

He said that countries have a duty to protect trade in their countries and that border control was one such way of doing so, rather than allow people do as they wish to the detriment of the nation’s economy.

Bello said a review of the ECOWAS protocol had become needful as Nigeria alone was keeping to the rules, thus making her a victim than a beneficiary. He, therefore, called on the stakeholders’ support for the FG’s action on border closure.

 “Remember that the federal government just signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA). We have had every economist pushing the ECOWAS protocol. We have to review this protocol because Nigeria seems to be a victim rather than beneficiary. There are certain things we allow to happen and those we should not.

"It is our duty to support what customs is doing and it is also our duty to proffer solution. NSC is a trade facilitator just like Customs. So we have been involved in the management of the corridor, the Lagos Abidjan corridor. 

"We have presence at the Seme border so we know all the issues going on, we know how we have been taken advantage on and we are in support of what is going on now. For long, Nigeria has been taking things lightly, we are often called a big brother and at the same time we are turned to a dustbin where everything is dumped,” Bello said.

Bello expressed satisfaction that the nation’s ports were now experiencing increased activities as many importers now use the ports, a development will create more jobs locally and improve revenue from imports.

While the stakeholders also supported the FG’s action, they said that government should have notified them over a period of time to enable them evacuate goods that are currently trapped in the face of the border closure.

However, some freight forwarders said the notice ought to have been given to the stakeholders before the closure, to evacuate items that are currently trapped in the borders.

Speaking on that occasion, maritime matters analyst, Otunba Kunle Folarin, supported the closure of the nation’s borders and faulted the lack of compliance to set rules and regulations from the neighbouring countries.

He said that Nigeria had suffered a one-sided relationship in the regard of compliance with trade within ECOWAS, as the nation had experienced huge revenue losses due to smuggling activities.  

Also speaking on need for compliance with trade agreements, Managing Director of the Inland Container Nigeria Limited (ICNL), Mr. Issa Yusuf, supporting the border closure, agreed that it was time for Nigeria to actually ensure that neighbouring countries complied as provided in the trade agreements.

He argued that government should have given notice within a period before the border closure, to avoid the sufferings being faced by legitimate business owners in Nigeria.

In his summation, the Deputy President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr. Kayode Farinto, welcomed the closure, saying the action was long over-due.

He added that with the border closure, the ports would experience increased activities, thus creating more jobs locally and a reduction in smuggling.

Farinto used the occasion to charge government on the need for developing infrastructure at the ports, as he called attention to the increased charges by truck owners who now charge N500,000 to deliver a container from Apapa to Ikeja. 

He further urged the federal government to review the current tariff on imported vehicles which is about 70 percent for new ones.

Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarding (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam who also welcomed the closure said the problem has been with poor communication.

Aniebonam who commended the NSC for convening the meeting to brief stakeholders on the closure said Nigerians ought to know the truth about the closure.

He called on other agencies of government to join the NSC in explaining to stakeholders on the benefits of the closure, Aniebonam bluntly said that whoever does not support the government was unpatriotic.

He pointed out that Section 19-b of the Customs Act gives the Service the power to shut the borders, blaming the neighbouring countries for breaching ECOWAS protocol that led to the latest development.

The NAGAFF founder who observed that the closure of the border was a kind of indictment on those manning the borders said it was time for them to wake up to their responsibilities.

“If you have bad neighbor, you cannot be sleeping. We should not reopen our borders until we get our neighbours to right the wrongs. We need to support government but government also needs to do what it ought to do”, Aniebonam said.

Concerned about the fate of  importers who have genuine goods trapped at the borders, other stakeholder appealed for intervention from the government to allow some of the goods to be cleared, to save the importers the burden of huge losses as they had borrowed money from the banks.